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For Grades 5-8 , week of Sep. 12, 2016

1. Tourists Too Close to Dolphins?

Federal officials have proposed a ban on swimming among the dolphins in the seashore waters of the state of Hawaii. Wildlife experts say tourists disrupt the dolphins when they should be resting or engaging in social activities with each other. The new rules — proposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — would prohibit people from approaching within 50 yards of dolphins. That would end tour groups riding up to dolphins in boats and jumping in the water to snorkel with them. The Marine Mammal Protection Act already prohibits harassment of dolphins, but the new rules add the 50-yard limit. The proposal is opposed by tourism interests. When people visit natural areas, they want to get close to wildlife and interact if possible. But too much interaction can cause problems for both wildlife and people. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about a wildlife species people would want to get close to. Use what you read and prior knowledge to write a paragraph detailing good and bad things that could happen from close interaction. Write another paragraph offering guidelines on the best way to interact with this wildlife species.

Common Core State Standards: Reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

2. Uber Testing Self-Driving Cars

As an experiment, the Uber transportation service is using self-driving cars to carry passengers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Customers can opt to ride in self-driving Ford Fusions summoned by smart phone, and the service will be free. In case there are unforeseen problems, a human backup driver is included. Uber has a self-driving research lab in Pittsburgh. Uber is the latest company to experiment with self-driving cars. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about companies that are developing such cars and tests that are being run. Use what you read to brainstorm an idea for a creative short story about how self-driving cars may be used in the future — and things that could happen as a result.

Common Core State Standards: Writing narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.

3. Thrill Rides Often Unregulated

At least 29 deaths on rides or water slides at amusement parks have been reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission since 2010, yet in some states the attractions are completely unregulated. And in other states, how they’re checked for safety varies widely. The amusement park industry has successfully lobbied against federal oversight for decades. “No two states … inspect rides the same way,” one consultant observes, “and that’s wrong.” The Product Safety Commission doesn’t regulate at permanent parks, only at traveling carnivals, and even there, it only responds after accidents. It doesn’t conduct routine inspections. Safety issues often are in the news, because they affect so many people. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a stories involving public safety in connection with public attractions, services or products used by many people. Use what you read to write a short editorial, outlining ways public officials could better ensure the safety of an attraction, service or product. Discuss ideas as a class.

Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

4. 1.2 Million Galaxies

A new 3D scan of space provides yet more evidence that the universe is expanding faster and faster. A map produced by the scan encompasses 650 cubic billion light years (about a quarter of the sky) and shows 1.2 million galaxies. That is the most ever recorded by astronomers. The 3D scan is one of the most precise measurements of the universe’s expansion to date, and it supports a theory by physicists that a mysterious dark energy is driving the expansion. The dark energy is believed to serve as sort of a counterforce against gravity. Space missions and new technology are allowing scientists to learn new things about space every year. With the newspaper or the website www.nasa.gov, find and closely read a story about a space mission that is collecting new information for scientists. Use what you read to draw a series of comic strips showing how the mission could affect space exploration in the future.

Common Core State Standards: Using drawings or visual displays when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or points; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.

5. Kenya Convicts Ivory Poacher

In a landmark ruling in its fight against wildlife poaching, the African nation of Kenya has sentenced a 20-year-old Mombasa man to 20 years in prison for possession of ivory. The man was on the most-wanted list for crimes against the environment, and more than 300 elephant tusks were discovered in his warehouse. Poachers illegally kill elephants for the ivory in their tusks. Protecting endangered species like elephants is an issue important to people in many countries. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story that examines an effort to protect wildlife. Use what you read to brainstorm a public service TV ad to call attention to the situation. Write an outline for your ad, including images you would use. Then write the opening scene in the form of a screenplay.

Common Core State Standards: Writing narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.